Section 504 is part of the federal Rehabilitation Act of 1973 to combat discrimination against individuals with disabilities in services, programs and activities administered by any entity that receives federal funds, including public schools. Section 504 provides protections for qualified individuals with a disability. For a student to be identified under Section 504, in most circumstances the school must conclude that the child has a physical or mental disability that substantially limits a major activity. These students may need specific services and accommodations in order to access the school program, but it may occasionally be true that an eligible child under Section 504 is not in need of any interventions at the present time. Eligible students receive an annual Accommodation Plan with input from teacher, staff, parents and student.
Students Protected under Section 504
Section 504 covers qualified students with disabilities who attend schools receiving Federal financial assistance. To be protected under Section 504, a student must be determined to: (1) have a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities; or (2) have a record of such an impairment; or (3) be regarded as having such an impairment. Section 504 requires that school districts provide a free appropriate public education (FAPE) to qualified students in their jurisdictions who have a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities.
What is a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity?The determination of whether a student has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity must be made on the basis of an individual inquiry. The Section 504 regulatory provision at 34 C.F.R. 104.3(j)(2)(i) defines a physical or mental impairment as any physiological disorder or condition, cosmetic disfigurement, or anatomical loss affecting one or more of the following body systems: neurological; musculoskeletal; special sense organs; respiratory, including speech organs; cardiovascular; reproductive; digestive; genito-urinary; hemic and lymphatic; skin; and endocrine; or any mental or psychological disorder, such as mental retardation, organic brain syndrome, emotional or mental illness, and specific learning disabilities. The regulatory provision does not set forth an exhaustive list of specific diseases and conditions that may constitute physical or mental impairments because of the difficulty of ensuring the comprehensiveness of such a list.
Major life activities, as defined in the Section 504 regulations at 34 C.F.R. 104.3(j)(2)(ii), include functions such as caring for one's self, performing manual tasks, walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, learning, and working. This list is not exhaustive. Other functions can be major life activities for purposes of Section 504. In the Amendments Act (see FAQ 1), Congress provided additional examples of general activities that are major life activities, including eating, sleeping, standing, lifting, bending, reading, concentrating, thinking, and communicating. Congress also provided a non-exhaustive list of examples of “major bodily functions” that are major life activities, such as the functions of the immune system, normal cell growth, digestive, bowel, bladder, neurological, brain, respiratory, circulatory, endocrine, and reproductive functions. The Section 504 regulatory provision, though not as comprehensive as the Amendments Act, is still valid – the Section 504 regulatory provision’s list of examples of major life activities is not exclusive, and an activity or function not specifically listed in the Section 504 regulatory provision can nonetheless be a major life activity.
If a parent or guardian believes that their child might be a candidate for a Section 504 plan, then the first person to contact is the principal of the child's school. If for some reason you are not satisfied with the principal's response to your request, then please feel free to contact the South Portland School Department’s Section 504 Coordinator, Kat Cox at 207-871-0555 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information please visit the Federal Government Section 504 Rules and Regulations.
Section 504: Process & Rights
The school district is obligated to inform you of decisions about your child and of your rights if you disagree with any of those decisions. The School Department has notices related to the rights of students and parents under Section 504.
For details regarding the process and your rights under Section 504, please contact your child's school principal.